Kellogg Halts Sales of Peanut Butter Crackers

Cereal giant calls action 'precautionary' as salmonella outbreak probe continues; 5 deaths now linked; victim count up to 430 in 43 states

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Cereal giant Kellogg has asked stores to stop selling its popular Keebler and Austin brand peanut butter crackers, as health officials reported two more deaths in the nationwide salmonella outbreak that is linked to peanut butter.

Kellogg, of Battle Creek, Mich., said it hadn't received any complaints or discovered any problems with the crackers, but took the action as a "precautionary measure" after one of its peanut paste suppliers, Peanut Corp. of America, announced a nationwide recall of peanut butter made in a Georgia plant.

The company is "removing product from retail store shelves and encouraging customers and consumers to hold and not eat these products until regulatory officials complete their investigation of PCA," a news release on the Kellogg Co. Web site said late Wednesday.

"We are taking these voluntary actions out of an abundance of caution," CEO David Mackay said in the news release.

The crackers are Toasted Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Crackers, Cheese and Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, and Peanut Butter-Chocolate Sandwich Crackers.

Meanwhile, health officials in Minnesota and Idaho said Wednesday that one death in each state had been linked to the outbreak, which has now sickened at least 430 people in 43 states. Another death in Minnesota and two in Virginia were confirmed Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Although their causes of death haven't been determined, all five adults had salmonella infection when they died. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the salmonella outbreak may have contributed to their deaths, the news service said.

Peanut Corp. of America, based in Lynchburg, Va., issued a recall Tuesday of 21 lots of peanut butter for possible salmonella contamination. The product was made at a plant in Blakely, Ga., on or after July 1, 2008, and sold under the brand name Parnell's Pride and by the King Nut Company as King Nut, the AP said.

Peanut Corp., which also has plants in Virginia and Texas, makes the product for bulk distribution to institutions, food service industries and private label food companies.

The recall follows findings that bacteria in an open container of King Nut creamy peanut butter in Minnesota was a genetic match to the strain of salmonella that has struck across the country.

Peanut Corp. issued a statement from its owner and president, Stewart Parnell, according to the AP. "We deeply regret that this has happened," Parnell said. "Out of an abundance of caution, we are voluntarily withdrawing this produce and contacting our customers."

On Monday, Minnesota health officials reported that lab tests on a tainted five-pound tub of peanut butter collected from a long-term care facility produced the genetic match. The Minnesota report, issued on its Department of Health Web site, was a follow-up to initial tests done last week.

Officials from the Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture had issued a product warning Friday after preliminary testing indicated the presence of salmonella in the peanut butter.

Late Saturday, King Nut, of Solon, Ohio, announced it had issued a recall of King Nut peanut butter and Parnell's Pride peanut butter with the lot code "8." Both brands are manufactured by Peanut Corp.

On Sunday, Kanan told the AP that the recall involved 1,000 cases of peanut butter.

Reports of people sickened in the outbreak have occurred between Sept. 3 and Dec. 31, 2008, with most illnesses starting after Oct. 1. About 18 percent of those who fell ill were hospitalized.

The strain of salmonella has been identified as Salmonella Typhimurium, the most common of the more than 2,500 types of salmonella bacteria in the United States. It's often found in uncooked eggs and meats, said CDC officials.

The recall and the potential link to the multi-state outbreak come two years after ConAgra recalled its Peter Pan brand peanut butter, which had been linked to at least 625 salmonella cases in 47 states.